It is said that good things come to those who wait.
This old adage did not hold true in regard to the fifth season of "Mad Men."
What I'm wondering is, what could have been done differently for creator Matthew Weiner to live up to the astronomical expectations fans had for the new episodes? Was it even possible?
I’m still trying to figure out what Megan was thinking when she performed “Zou Bisou Bisou.”
I have spent the week following the extremely disappointing season finale contemplating this. While I'm sure it would have been difficult to top past seasons, I think that there were some key elements clearly missing from the fifth one. With some improvements, I don't think we would be so soured over what took place over the past few months.
The most important thing that this season lacked was tension. Sure, viewers were knocked over their heads with hints that death was knocking on Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's front door. Pete's going off the rails - and he mentioned the company's suicide clause! Lane is going to get caught embezzling and go completely berserk! Many of the characters grew increasingly disappointed with their circumstances. A darkness loomed over the vast majority of the episodes.
However, it was not the same tension we had become accustomed to in the beginning. It was not until season three when Betty finally found out about Don Draper's biggest secret - his identity was stolen. He was really Dick Whitman; in order to leave Korea, he did what he felt he had to to survive. The potential discovery of that information was possible around every corner, and threatened to destroy his entire existence. It made for edge-of-your-seat viewing. The episode where Betty confronts him, "The Gypsy and the Hobo" (the second-to-last episode of season three), while Miss Farrell is left waiting in Don's car for hours - as they were about to depart for an impromptu romantic getaway - was so exciting, I was glued to the television set. I must have leapt off the couch and yelled at the screen numerous times before it was over.
Even though the big reveal had already happened, it led to the end of Don and Betty's marriage and I was thrilled to see where the show would go next. Some people didn't enjoy seeing Don unravel and descend into the depths of despair so spectacularly in season four, but I disagreed. It was important for Don to show that he was human in order for his character to become completely developed. It also made for some engrossing hours of television. How far would Don fall? Would he go completely over the edge? How would he come back from this?
Unfortunately, it led to his new marriage to Megan - which is another big part of why I didn't enjoy season five as much as others.
I've gone back and forth on how I feel about Megan countless times. After season four concluded with Don's audacious proposal to his secretary, whom he barely knew, I wasn't thrilled. In the months I spent speculating on what would transpire in the first new episode, it seemed entirely possible that the actual marriage would never take place. Don made a lot of rash decisions at that time, and it was unclear how much time would pass in the world of "Mad Men" between seasons four and five.
It was somewhat surprising to see that Megan had become the new Mrs. Draper. After her performance of "Zou Bisou Bisou" resulted in much mockery and embarrassment for Don, I thought, "No way will this last. If this woman didn't realize that Don would be mortified by the performance - given in front of his business associates! - and would hate a surprise birthday party in and of itself, she is not right for him. Draw up the divorce papers." She seemed impulsive, immature, frivolous and much too young for him. Why couldn't Don have chosen Dr. Faye Miller instead?
However, the episode "At the Codfish Ball" (episode seven) was a game-changer for me. It was my favorite episode of season five - probably because it felt like a return to the "Mad Men" of seasons past. Megan (and star Jessica Pare, who plays her to perfection) simply dazzled, earning respect as a talented, creative woman with a knack for ideas that would sell and the ability to read a room. We watched Don fall in love with her all over again - she was a woman that could be his equal, his counterpart, his ally - and I finally understood why.
Then, Megan decides that she wants to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. Don didn't care much for that decision and neither did I. He was especially displeased to learn that getting a role would likely mean a considerable amount of time apart and did not seem to be terribly thrilled with her trying to call the shots, and dictate how their future would unfold. Perhaps my initial inclination about their relationship, and Megan herself, wasn't so far off.
The thing that I dislike most about Don's new wife is the effect she has had on his performance at and dedication to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Don's ambition diminished following his marriage to Megan - would we have heard him utter the words "I don't care about work" in season one? (Then again, the agency was his respite from Betty).
With Megan's acting creating a rift in their relationship, we finally saw a return to the Don Draper we know and love. I was elated to see him go after Dow Chemicals in "Commissions and Fees" (episode 12) with a hunger and tenacity not seen throughout most of the season.
So much time was spent on Megan in season five that we didn't get to spend nearly enough with other characters we knew and loved - like Peggy, for example. I am happy to see her finally finding her footing and I bet we will see her career take off with her work on Virginia Slims - but will we be seeing even less of her now that she's left the agency?
There was more Joan, but not enough (there's never enough) - and I'm still struggling with the life-altering decision she made in episode 11. Joan's decision sparked many a debate during the week that followed. Would our Joan really have done that? Was it realistic in the context of the characters and the time period "Mad Men" takes place in? What would you have done? Is there no limit to the lengths a mother will go to in order to provide security for her child?
Betty also fell to the wayside and from what we saw, it's as if Weiner is unsure of what to do with her now. Would a woman that obsessed with appearances - in a supposedly happy new marriage that involved being seen on the arm of a public figure - really pack on that many pounds? More importantly, did the fat suit have to look so fake? She would occasionally meddle and ruffle Megan's feathers, then disappear again. Would it be better if she just disappeared completely?
The season went from bad to worse with last Sunday's finale - something unprecedented happened. "Mad Men" went out with a whimper. Usually the season concludes with an earth-shattering reveal Peggy's labor in season one, the start of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce in season three. During the vast majority of the episode, we spent time on parts of the plot that didn't seem terribly important - Pete's dalliance with his married mistress, Roger Sterling's crush on Megan's mother and his affinity for psychedelics. Would "Commissions and Fees" have been a more fitting conclusion?
The only glimmer of hope we have for the next season was in the last line of the finale. "Are you alone?" a woman asks Don at the bar. If his devilish gaze is any indication, I believe the answer is yes.
No matter how disappointed I am with one episode or the majority of one season, I will not be deterred. "Mad Men" is still my favorite show, and I'm in this for the long haul.
Weiner said the seventh season of "Mad Men" will be its last.
"I can't imagine pushing it beyond that," he said.
I want a frenetic, no-holds-barred race to the finish. I want him to make every last second, every frame count. I want my mind to be blown. I want what fans have come to expect: perfection.
Is that too much to ask?
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